“Now, if you’re playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think you’ve experienced it. But you’ll be cheated. It’s such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your [adjective deleted] telephone. Get real.”
Thus spake David Lynch (against a red curtain backdrop, naturally) on the special edition DVD of Inland Empire.
His outburst makes me think of how people say, “Yeah, I saw it on video,” or “You haven’t really seen it until you’ve seen it on the big screen.” Why not? The content doesn’t change between the two media (special editions/directors cuts aside). But the experience of that content does. And not to get cosmic, but I think the difference has a lot to do with how we experience time.
Time in the cinema is outside your control. The start and end times of the film are set by the management, and are inflexible. If you get there late, you miss the trailers, or the opening credits, or the opening scene. The recollection/experience/anticipation sequence of the film progresses with or without us. Reels change automatically, and if you go to the bathroom, you’re going to miss something. Watching a movie at a cinema means being in temporal thrall to the theatre, being an object afloat in its timestream.
The language of the cinema is one of wholeness. A film is a sentence spoken without pause for its running time. Even an intermission is part of that sentence – a throat clearing, a pause for emphasis, an eyebrow significantly raised. The lexicon of the film is not ours, but that (collectively) of the cast and crew and their antecedents and influences; and yet, for the time we sit in the cinema, it becomes ours – or, more accurately, we become its.
In short, the cinema objectifies.
Video media, on the other hand, are all about subjectivity.
We may not know how a DVD works, but we know how to work it. We can (remote) control it. We know why the television and furniture are where they are, because they are where we put them. Moreover, the space in which we watch home video (the home, not to put to fine a point on it) is entirely manipulable: we can move to get the best view, assume the most comfortable position, adjust lighting, temperature and volume. This is a space which we inhabit, and into which we admit the film – not vice versa.
But more importantly, video also posits time as manipulable. Watching a DVD, we are free to enter and exit the linear experience of the film as we see fit. We start the film when we want, when most convenient for us. We can make sure everything’s perfect before we start – levels set, pillows plumped. Further, we can pause or stop the story at any time. The recollection/experience/anticipation line, so inviolable in the cinema, can here be shattered and rearranged at will. This timestream has a weak current, and we can paddle about, upstream and down, as we choose.
And if the language of cinema is one of wholeness, the language of video is one of particulation and splintering. The big screen is shrunk to the size of our television. Picture and sound quality are, no matter what Sony claims, reduced.
The lexicon of the film remains the same, but we now have the key to that code, and tools with which to deconstruct and dissect its grammar – most notably, the remote control. The ability to instantaneously and multidirectionally study a film by fast forwarding, rewinding, pausing and still-framing gives us access to not only to its‘ meaning, but also to the formation of that meaning. It gives us the frames as well as the film; the words as well as the sentence.
In the cinema, we lean to speak the film’s language. In our living room, it has to learn to speak ours.
It’s worth noting that David Lynch releases his DVDs unchaptered. You can still start or stop when you want, and pause if you need to, but the film asks, in its own language, to be watched from beginning to end, without pause. In its own time.
If you can experience the film like that, why not on a telephone? (It’s also worth noting that you can download ringtones from davidlynch.com. My favourite screams “My teeth are bleeding!” over and over.) When does the object/subject relationship between film and viewer get so strained that it ends in divorce? Is it when you start carrying it around? The number of question marks here should be a clue to the fact that I don’t really have an answer here.
I used to think the difference was that when you watch a David Lynch film on home video, you can turn the light on when it’s over – but when the cinema lets out after the same film, though, you still face a long, dark walk home. Now, though, you can take the film with you on that walk – literally, as well as figuratively – or even watch it for the first time on that walk.
Get real, indeed.
Well, there’s two hours of Ian Driscoll’s life he’ll never get back. But then, every two hours is two hours of your life you’ll never get back.